Powerlessness is one of the most damaging emotions coming from a childhood of complex trauma. It is the foundation of depression. It keeps us paralyzed. And if we don’t recognize it for what it is, it can lead to suicidal ideation and even suicide attempts. The message behind powerlessness is simple. “What’s the point? The world is against me. Nothing I could ever do will make a difference.” And while the message is simple, the effect is not. It is a complex web of challenges which most people never fully unravel.
There is no place in life where powerlessness can affect us more than parenting. Why? Traumatic powerlessness is triggered when bad things happen. And bad things happen all the time in life. But in parenting, bad things happen ALL the time. What do I mean by bad things? To a parent with complex trauma, that can be almost anything. A child gets sick. You get sick. You both get sick simultaneously. They bring home a bad grade. They have a fight with their best friend. They hate what you made for dinner. When we are grounded, we can agree these are just things that happen. Almost all parents experience these bad things. But to our traumatized inner parts, it triggers the following conversation:
“These things must be happening because I am not good enough. These things are my fault. I should have tried harder. I didn’t do enough to stop it. I am failing as a parent. No matter what I do, I won’t be able to stop the bad things. I am being victimized by the universe. My kids are doomed to live a horrible life. I might as well not be here.”
Does this sound familiar? I am writing this after a trip to KidMed (emergency room for kids) for my son’s hurt foot (not broken) and a night wondering when the first of my two kids was going to throw up (finally happened in the morning). And during the night, I spent at least an hour blaming myself for my children falling behind in violin class. So honestly, the conversation above is very fresh. It is exactly what ran through my mind at various points throughout the night.
But we don’t have to live in this place of powerlessness as parents. As a matter of a fact, we can’t. Our children are looking to us to show resilience in the face of bad things. That is how they learn to cope with them. So we have to counter the conversation with a different perspective. Let me give you some examples.
- It’s my fault. My first thought when my son hurt his foot was self-blame. My son has a tendency to put shoes on the wrong feet. He does it very infrequently now, but he did it all the time as a toddler. He would fight me on it. He would tell me it felt better that way. I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t fight him on it. It was one of the first battles I stopped fighting. He needed to control something, anything, and I could give it to him. But it isn’t okay when he is playing sports. And he almost never does it at this point. I could still hear myself blaming the injury on my leniency. But I know something else. If I had pushed him on the shoe thing when he was younger, he would have done it more. This was a fairly isolated incident, but if I had pushed, it would still be his norm.
- I am being punished. I have a trip planned for Universal in less than two weeks. I had many inner battles when planning this trip, but one of the broken record messages was about how I am not allowed to do fun things, especially when they cost money. While I was sitting at KidMed, I could not help but think of us trying to walk through Universal with a kid on crutches. I heard that message from within. “This is because I tried to do something fun.” But I know something else. I am allowed to have fun. My kids are allowed to have fun. It doesn’t matter what the abusers told me. I can live a full life. His foot is not broken and will be fine in two weeks. But even if it wasn’t, it would not be punishment.
- My kids are going to be messed up like me. The violin situation has really spurred this one. They are falling behind because I am not paying attention. They are falling behind because I can’t read music. They are falling behind because they have some anxiety and don’t always focus. And that anxiety came from me. “No matter how hard I work to get well and parent well, they are going to be messed up.” But I know something else. Being a kid is hard and all kids aren’t good at all things. That said, I can increase my attention to their practice and they will cut less corners as all kids do when parents are listening. And every kid on the planet is anxious to some degree. Let’s face it. Being a kid is hard and scary even with good parents. And they all show it differently. I know my kids are fine.
Powerlessness in parenting can lead us down some dark roads in the mind. There is nothing like children to trigger these thoughts. But we can bring awareness to these thoughts. We can allow ourselves to consider other realities. We can remind ourselves that we aren’t powerless like we were as children in traumatic environments. We can make changes that make a difference. It might not be the huge immediate difference we want, but it will make a difference. Every child on the planet is here to overcome something. They will feel pain on their journey. They will experience bad things. And they are generally not your fault. But if they see you handle bad things in an empowered way, they will learn from your example and they will flourish.
** If you are looking for guidance about how to shift your parenting out of powerlessness, take a look at my parenting offerings and let me guide you.
I usually don’t write about current events. I do that on purpose. I want to keep the focus on recovery. Too much focus on current events can be triggering. Triggers can be helpful in recovery by giving us access to our emotions, but they can also shut us down if they come too fast and furious. That said, I have been feeling a strong urge to ask a question about the reactions to the sexual harassment allegations in recent months. And I can’t avoid it any longer. Why is everyone so shocked?
I have noticed many posts on social media and announcements in mainstream media themed with shock and dismay. They don’t understand how there could be so much of this going on. How could so many people be unaware of it? How could it have been missed for so long? The abuser seemed like such a nice person. How did they get so successful and powerful when they were such a bad person? But all of these questions seem incredibly naïve to me. I just don’t get how the denial has run this deep for so long. Actually I do get it. It is convenient to deny it. It is convenient to ignore it. It is convenient to victim blame.
So today, I am going to clear up some of this shock with my own explanations. For those who read my blog regularly, you probably know this already. But this post may be something you can share with your shocked friends.
- Most people who knew the abuser and the victims were aware of this. Some were aware of it for a long time. But they chose to look the other way. Why? Self preservation. It is easier to ignore it. It is less risky. There is less chance of retaliation. They won’t have to initiate a fight with this powerful person (which they are likely to lose). They need this powerful person in their life. They are even potentially reliant upon them for their success. They don’t want to get a reputation among other abusers as a whistle-blower. And what if it’s not true? What if they were imaging it? They will look crazy. The abuser might make them look crazy anyway. Society doesn’t like crazy people.
- The abuser is powerful and successful for a reason. Bad people are often powerful and successful. We have a crazy belief in society which is perpetuated by abusers. That belief states that successful and powerful people are that way because they deserve it. They worked hard for it. They are golden children who are smiled upon by a higher power. They are better than others. Successful and powerful people want us to believe this. If we believe this, we will see them as deserving of their elevated role in society, even see them as a higher caliber of human being. This facilitates further accumulation of power on their part which is the goal. Sexual harassment is not about an addiction to sex. It is about an addiction to power. So of course powerful people would do this. (I do understand there are successful people in the world who are truly helping others. We need many more of them.)
- The abuser appears nice for a reason. Abusive people are desperately trying to look like everyone else. Their mask is extremely strong. It needs to be to cover up their indiscretions and bad behavior. Often they will appear nicer than others who don’t need the same mask. When those abusers are famous, it is even more important to wear their mask when they are in public. If everyone believes them to be nice, they will look the other way when the behavior doesn’t support that reputation. If everyone believes them to be nice, they will be less likely to believe the victim. This is the strategy and it works.
But over the past few months, there is something that is shocking me. I am shocked that people are listening to the victims and taking action. Don’t get me wrong, I see that it is highly selective. The victims are rich, famous, white adults. Society does love privilege. And while companies are firing media personalities to safeguard their profits, politicians seem to be sticking around. But it is still different. It is a starting point. Maybe some abusers are thinking it might not be so easy in the future. Maybe some abusers are considering whether they can still be safe behind their power and their “nice mask”. Maybe society is just a tiny bit less accepting of the denial. More importantly, maybe victims are giving more thought to speaking out about their experiences. And while we have a long way to go, particularly when powerful people are sexually abusing children, maybe this is a start.
So when you hear the shock and dismay reaction, take a few minutes to educate. If people can understand that it works like this, if they can see this is normal, they might notice things they haven’t before. They won’t be so quick to look the other way or dismiss the claims of a victim. Let’s use this as a foundation for a new normal where denial is not acceptable and victims are not blamed and the powerful are not invincible. It is time for change. And we will be the change-makers.
“The world will be saved by the Western woman.” Dalai Lama
When it comes to parts work, there are some critical steps to healing ourselves. First, we must build awareness of our parts and their unconscious beliefs. Second, we must accept those parts for who they are today. Third, we must allow those parts to express themselves as much as they need. They must be heard and validated by us. Of course, this is much easier said than done. We have been taught there is something wrong with our parts. We have even been taught that our parts are dangerous. We have come to understand that what our parts have to offer the world is not acceptable. Getting started with the relationship-building is so difficult to do.
But this work comes with benefits. Maybe that goes without saying. Otherwise why would we do it? The most obvious benefit is the relief we get from expressing our painful story and the emotions that come with it. It is also beneficial for us to understand our true narrative. Everything makes so much more sense when we do. But the most significant benefit comes from who we become. We become our true selves. We become who we were always meant to be. We become the powerful self we were blocked from accessing through the trauma of childhood. How does that happen? As we express from our inner parts, they learn their true value, their true strengths. How do they learn that? We teach them.
In many ways, this is the re-parenting concept that can be so triggering for us. But hear me out. Don’t shut down the page yet. Good enough parents are supposed to help their children find their way in the world. Good enough parents are supposed to help their children access their strengths and use them to pursue their purpose. Good enough parents are supposed to help them become an individual in a world that prefers lemmings. And I will go out on a limb and guess that you didn’t have good enough parents. If you did, you would not be reading this. So here comes the triggering part. This is exactly what we have to do with our parts. I get that your parents were supposed to do it and didn’t do it. And that is NOT fair. But now you have the option to help your parts and yourself.
Recently, I was reminded of the power of this work through my own acceptance of parts. I have been working with a part who is not easy to accept. They are a freedom fighter which makes them not particularly friendly to others. They have made it clear they prefer to be alone. I call them the Prima Donna and their methods are somewhat questionable. They like to push people away with superiority. They like to tell others they don’t need them. It isn’t pleasant to retrieve the memories of this part in action. As I have mentioned before, the list of people I must avoid forever is long (and apparently getting longer).
I get what she is trying to do. She doesn’t want to be controlled. She doesn’t want to be abused. She doesn’t want to be told what to do by others. I know this. I have been working with the freedom fighters for a while now. But as I have always discovered in my parts, there is a strength in her. And no, it is not superiority. Over this past year, I have uncovered many ways I have fought for my freedom. I have struggled to gain freedom from my pain, contracts, oppression and even inner controller. But today, I have learned that my freedom fighting goes further. Today I have discovered that my Prima Donna is fighting for the freedom of others.
She didn’t push people away because they were holding her back or down (although some were). She didn’t push people away because they were bad people necessarily (although some were). She pushed people away to protect them from the abusers around her. She pushed them away to keep them safe. She put on a show to make them leave. This ensured her loneliness. In some ways it ensured her further abuse. But it also was a valiant attempt at freeing those around her.
And for that, I am grateful. I am grateful to her for the beauty of her heart. I am grateful that she was willing to ensure her own loneliness to save others. Did it work? Probably not. Not much we did as kids worked. That’s why we are so inundated with futility. But she didn’t give up. And she was willing to sacrifice everything for others. Now I know how strong she was. Now I know how strong I am.
Protecting my children has been one of my most important goals over the past 11 years. I have made it clear to my family and all other abusers that my children are not available to them. I have eliminated all contact with abusers in our lives. This required me to give up the only family I had ever known, a financial safety net, and all assistance with raising my children. But I gave it up to protect my children and it was the best decision I ever made.
There are a few reasons for my dedication to their protection. First, I am their mother. Of course I will protect them. I know what you’re thinking though. Not all parents protect their children. And I get that. My blog would not exist if parents did the right thing all the time. But there is an instinct underneath that trauma-based drive for personal safety. It is buried, but it is there. It whispers to protect them.
Second, my higher self has been talking to me. She can be hard to hear over the loud trumpeters that are my traumatized inner parts. But she is there. And she says I have a purpose. I have a purpose to break the cycle, to start a new generation within my family with new perspectives and beliefs. I sense it in my bones. I always have (even though I may not have always known what I was sensing).
Third, I have some really pissed off parts who are protecting some very traumatized inner children. They project that protection to my outer children. They wrap all their warped methods of protection around my children by default. But some of these methods have needed adjusting to truly break the cycle. The hovering has mellowed substantially. I don’t do everything for my kids anymore. It has certainly been a journey to find balance. Despite those struggles, my parts mean well. And they aren’t backing down no matter what. read more…
I haven’t always liked myself very much. That is a side effect of growing up with horrible people who blamed their behavior on me. But I have always been openly proud of my independence. I have always seen my ability to function without help as a powerful strength. It didn’t matter what I had to do to get everything done on my own. It didn’t matter if I forgot to eat or slept for 3 hours a night all week long. It didn’t matter if I was practically dead from exhaustion. As long as I did it all myself, everything was great. I was succeeding in life.
When I started down the road of recovery, it became clear that my concept of success might have been tainted by my past. I started to realize that I might not have everything quite right. I realized that my life situation was going to make my previous independence less possible (although my controller was still willing to try). My recovered memories and shift out of “doormat” status sent my family, husband and “friends” running for the hills. They didn’t want to know a woman with boundaries. So suddenly, I was a single mother with no family and very few friends. I was on my own.
Let’s be fair. I was on my own when they were there. Why? Asking for help was not okay. To take it a step further, asking for help was dangerous. But as I recovered, I realized that it might be possible to have some people in my life who could be helpful, less critical, more supportive. I know what you are thinking. “That doesn’t exist.” I haven’t seen much of it either. But that might have to do with my expectations. I attracted what I expected. And when it came to others, my expectations weren’t high.
As I have made progress, I have taken small steps toward vulnerability and asking for help. Sometimes this was a necessity. Sometimes I was giving it a try. I wanted to know if it might work out for me, if support really was available for someone like me. But more importantly, I wanted to see if support might come without strings attached. Recently I had a setback. It has taught me that I still need to hone my discernment skills in this area. But it has also taught me that my parts have a lot to say about it. Here are some of the reasons that my parts want to do everything on their own (in their own words). read more…
I have been asked countless questions from trauma survivors about recovery. For those of us on this journey, we are seekers and we want answers. We do our research and we won’t stop until we understand. I want to help people in their quest to understand. Actually, it might be my primary mission. So I try to answer these questions. But there is one I don’t have an answer to. And it is a big one.
Why do some of us recover while others stay in denial?
I don’t have clarity about this answer. I know a lot about what drives people to recovery. I know one primary driver is pain. But why do some feel more pain about traumas while others continue to defend? That is a much harder question. And some drivers come from a spiritual or soul level. I can’t possibly understand or explain that fully. So the answer is not straight-forward. That doesn’t appeal to our controller parts who love the facts. But in working with my clients, I have found some universal qualities in survivors who seek answers. I thought I would share those with you.
We Seek Truth
I was talking with a client today and she brought up a very important point. She said her soul is driving her to live in truth. She can’t live the lie. And she can’t stand being around others who live it. One of her biggest triggers is being lied to. I could relate. I have always felt a deep connection to the truth. Living authentically has been the only way to live in my own mind. I can’t and won’t live a lie. There is something that won’t let me settle down when I am not in integrity. And for me, this is a critical component of the drive to heal. I can’t live in the story my controller has created for my convenience any longer. read more…
Through my work with other trauma survivors, I have been surprised to learn how many similarities our stories share. The external circumstances are often different. But the beliefs we gain, the emotions we carry and the abusive strategies used against us are similar. It is eerie how similar they are. This week, there has been one particular theme with my clients which illustrates those similarities. Many of us are struggling to get out from under the affects of a phrase used repeated in childhood.
“You should be grateful for all I have done for you.”
There seems to be a ridiculous notion in the belief systems of most abusive parents that their child should be grateful for their raising. The idea that a child has any understanding of their parent’s obligations in raising them is ridiculous. The child didn’t choose to be born (least of all to abusive parents). The child didn’t sit down at the table with the parents and say, “Let’s discuss how much this is going to cost and how exhausted you are going to feel.” The child has no idea they are a burden because they are not supposed to be one. The child is a child. They are here and they want to live life. They didn’t know they would start life in emotional and financial debt at the hands of their parents.
So why do abusive parents do this? I have some ideas.
It was done to them. A generation of parents doesn’t wake up one day and decide to do and say ridiculous things. We have been spewing nonsense about gratitude from children since humans created the spoken language. But that doesn’t mean we should accept this antiquated and abusive perspective. We have brains so we can ask questions.
If they exaggerate what they do for the child, they can fool themselves about how great they are. More than likely, our abusive parents were never appreciated for much of anything. This is one of the patterns that led to their addiction to power in the first place. They had to look for little scraps of love wherever they could find them. In many cases, they to get those scraps by making a big deal out of the things they do, looking for positive feedback in any way they could get it. This became an addiction and was projected on to their children. It becomes the child’s responsibility to feed their ego. read more…
Last week, I wrote about the horrible invalidation that comes with claims that dissociation is not real. But there is another belief about dissociation (and particularly Dissociative Identity Disorder) which leads to an underestimation of its prevalence. That belief is supported by movies and programs like Split (horrible) and United States of Tara (not as bad). That belief suggests Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) manifests in extreme ways. Of course, most of us know what is wrong with Split. It portrays those with D.I.D. as criminals. But even with United States of Tara, there are extreme behavior changes when switches happen. Does that happen in reality? Absolutely. But it is important to understand D.I.D. and its purpose so we can fully understand how it works.
D.I.D. (and any form of dissociation) is not about attention seeking. It is about coping. It is meant to go undetected. Most of the parts are trying to fit in, to gain acceptance. They are trying to behave in a way that will keep others from questioning them. There are exceptions. The freedom fighters are less interested in fitting in. And the defenders will do bold things to ensure safety. But most of the time, a switch is undetectable unless you are looking for it or know the person very well. What does this mean for us? It means that D.I.D. is far more common than we think. There are many people walking around with parts who have no idea they are switching. And nobody else around them knows either.
Now you may be asking yourself how you know if D.I.D. is a part of your life. So I will take this opportunity to explore what D.I.D. looks like. Outside of Hollywood, what are the real life scenarios for those of us who deal with severe dissociation? I will give you some examples from my own life. These aren’t the most embarrassing stories. I save those for my clients. They get to hear the worst of it. But these stories will help you understand what really happens. read more…
Recently I was alerted to an article on Psychology Today which denounced dissociation as a real response to trauma. Not surprisingly, this article made my blood boil. The most infuriating part of the article was how he kept repeating how dissociation was used as an excuse for behavior. So basically, he was saying that if someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for their behavior, they could claim dissociation caused it. It was written by someone with the letters behind his name. I am sure he had went to school and read the books. I am sure he has worked with some clients with some mildly irritating symptoms associated with some mild forms of trauma. And suddenly, he is an expert on what does and doesn’t exist.
These kinds of articles are irresponsible for so many reasons (most of which I don’t need to tell you). Dissociation is hard to acknowledge even for those of us who are graced with severe forms of it. We have learned denial from the best. That’s why we dissociate in the first place. Acknowledging dissociation requires us to admit there is another narrative, a narrative we have been denying a very long time. Of course, we need help with that. We need to hear from credible sources that we are on the right track, that what we are uncovering is real. We won’t hear that from our abusers. We won’t hear it from the general public. So we have to hear it from trained professionals. When they throw denial in our direction, they cause more damage than they will ever fully understand.
So why do they do it? Why do they use their credentials to enable the denial of something very real in such an irresponsible way? Why can they not accept dissociation as a trauma response considering all the research in support of it, all the experts who say it is real? Why do they continue to claim it is false? Well, I have some ideas. read more…
Paranoia is one of the most stigmatized symptoms of complex trauma. It is often viewed as a sign of a serious mental illness. But the reality of paranoia is different. It is everywhere. I believe childhood trauma makes it a guarantee. Paranoia can be so many things. It can be as simple as “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It can be as intense as expecting abusers to come around the corner at any second. It can be as unrealistic as waiting for a lightning strike. But no matter the manifestation, it is debilitating. It holds us back from our purpose because we don’t feel safe or free to pursue what we want.
Paranoia is so confusing because it rarely exists on a conscious level. Our adult self will often have a mature enough understanding to have left most paranoid thoughts behind (although not always). But the paranoid thoughts exist in the unconscious with the inner parts who needed to create explanations for unusual and traumatic experiences. And as they linger there, they can make life very uncomfortable with strong anxiety, panic and hypervigilance as the manifestations. But why does it happen? Why do we suffer from paranoia in the first place? read more…